Friday, January 29, 2010

The Lead Sheet -- Twin Cities Jazz, January 29-February 4

© Andrea Canter

Baby, it’s cold outside... but the jazz around town is hot, and there’s plenty of options for the week. We’re in the midst of a “Kelly Rossum Weekend” with one more night of live recording with the Pete Whitman X-Tet at the Artists Quarter and a “Late Night” at the Dakota gig with his quartet. Kelly relocated to New York last fall so our opportunities to hear him are going to be few and far between. The AQ was packed last night for the X-Tet’s opening session, and the band was pumped. Originals (several from the savory pen of saxman Dave Milne) and Ornette Coleman filled the first set, and Kelly’s soloing indicates that New York has provided ample inspiration. Be advised to arrive early tonight—after all, the X-Tet itself takes up the first row of seating! (But if you want to chance finding a seat for the second set, consider starting your evening at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill, just a few blocks south on West 7th, and enjoy dinner with Maud Hixson and Tanner Taylor—an intriguing pairing for voice and piano!) Catch another version of Kelly Rossum when he reunites with his blazing quartet (Bryan Nichols, Chris and JT Bates) for the 11:30 pm late show at the Dakota tomorrow night (1/30).

I find the best way to get myself “up” for a late night gig is to first find a prime time gig to keep me alert and wanting more. On Saturday night, I’ll head down to the AQ for trio jazz at its best—Chris Lomheim, Adam Linz and Phil Hey. I could make it a triple header and start the evening at Honey (former Jitters space) where sassy singer Nichola Miller swings with master pianist Rick Carlson. (Nichola starts at 7:30 pm; Chris and company at the AQ are scheduled at 9—make that 9:30 before they really get underway; it is humanly possible to take in a set each and still get to the Dakota for the 11:30 late sets!)

Sunday afternoon presents an unusual pairing of jazz and classical artists joining together to salute a unique talent, composer/lyricist Alec Wilder (“Blackberry Winter,” “Moon and Sand”). Pulled together by another unique talent, pianist/composer/educator Laura Caviani, the Wilder project is a collaboration among music faculty at Carleton College in Northfield, highlighting the diversity of Wilder’s output for voice, horns, and jazz ensemble. Laura is bringing along favorite cohorts Gordy Johnson and Phil Hey to jazz up the afternoon. This is a free event in the Concert Hall at Carleton, 3 pm. Definitely worth the drive. And you can get back in time to Unite for Haiti at the Dakota (6 pm, 1/31), a benefit that contributes 100% of the $20 cover to the American Refugee Committee on behalf of earthquake victims in Haiti. Musicians featured include Estaire Godinez, Debbie Duncan, Davina Sowers and Adam Levy.

Other highlights of the coming week: Estaire Godinez, former Twin Cities resident whose Latin-infused percussion and vocals warm the West Coast, holds a CD release party at the Dakota this weekend (1/29-30). Sidewalk Café with Rhonda Laurie swing at the Dakota (2/1)—hot club maestros Reynold Philipsek, Gary Schulte and Jeff Brueske have been teaming up with savvy vocalist Rhonda Laurie—watch for a CD release later this year. Magnificent soul singer Bettye LaVette makes a rare concert hall appearance Tuesday (2/2) at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Blowing in from the Windy City, former TC resident Bruce Henry makes a rare appearance at Hell's Kitchen with Vital Organ (Zacc Harris, Jason Craft and Pete Hennig (2/2). Dueling saxophones from Brian Grivna and Dave Karr bop through the evening on Tuesday (2/2) at the Dakota. And enjoy the return of “Slide Versus Valve” at the AQ (2/3), a quintet built around the slide (Dave Graf) and valve (Brad Bellows) trombones. The trombone just lends itself to good humor. Also on Wednesday (2/3), Nichola Miller completes her current run with the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen... and you can be sure she will give ‘em hell!

Thursday (2/4) offers some dilemmas, with the next REEL Jazz film screening at Bryant Lake Bowl, sponsored by KBEM. The film this month is Chops, Bruce Broder's documentary about a group of kids with extraordinary musical ability who learn to make the most of their gifts in an acclaimed public school jazz program in Jacksonville, Florida. These screenings are always worthwhile; you can enjoy dinner and drinks in the intimate theater space, and afterwards you can always bowl a few frames. Or better yet, head on down to the AQ and catch the Tanner Taylor Trio. Competing with REEL Jazz is Battle of the Bands, also sponsored by KBEM, pitting the Acme Jazz Company versus the Nova Jazz Orchestra. The blowout will be held at Minnetonka High School (7:30 pm) and recorded for future broadcast.

For songful nights, this week you’ll find: Arne Fogel with Rick Carlson at Ingredients in White Bear (1/29); Sophia Shorai on piano and vocals at Nicollet Island Inn (1/29) and Hell’s Kitchen (1/30); Nancy Harms at Hell’s Kitchen (1/29) and with Chris Lomheim at Honey (2/4); Charmin Michelle with the Joel Shapira Trio at Crave in the Galleria (1/29), with Rick Carlson at Crave in the West End Shops (1/31), and with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza Mondays and Wednesdays; Christine Rosholt with Beasley’s Big Band at O’Gara’s (2/1) and at Honey with the Tanner Taylor Quartet (2/3); Debbie Duncan and Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar (2/2).

Instrumental jazz to fill in the holes in your calendar this week: Jazz by Fosse with Irv Williams, happy hour at the Dakota (1/29); the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico in the Chambers Hotel (1/29-30); JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar of the St. Paul Hotel (1/29-30); Fantastic Merlins at the Black Dog (1/29); Alden Ikeda, Mike Lewis and Adam Linz at Café Maude (1/29); Frank 3000 (Dan Frankowski and friends) for Saturday breakfast at Famous Dave’s in Calhoun Square (1/30); Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview (1/31); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (2/2); Twin Cities Hot Club at Erte (2/3).

Coming soon: The Five at the AQ (2/5-6); Ellen Lease/Pat Moriarty Quintet at Studio Z (2/6); Bill Frisell at the Walker (2/6); Roberta Gambarini at the Dakota (2/8); Bobby Peterson Memorial Piano Showcase at the AQ (2/12-13); Debbie Duncan and Anthony Cox at the Dakota (2/12-13); Ahmad Jamal at the Dakota (2/21-23); Rick Germanson at the AQ (2/26-27).
Photos: (Top to bottom) Kelly Rossum at his farewell gig at the AQ last August; Chris Lomheim; Sidewalk Cafe with Rhonda Laurie (and clockwise, Reynold Philipsek, Jeff Brueske, Gary Schulte); Bettye LaVette. Photos by Andrea Canter except Sidewalk Cafe by Rhonda's son Jared Smith.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Earfood Indeed! Another Electrifying Visit From Roy Hargrove

© Andrea Canter

Roy Hargrove likes the Dakota Jazz Club. The Twin Cities jazz audience likes Roy Hargrove. The love affair keeps Roy coming back, sometimes twice within a given year. One of the most prolific composers, bandleaders and performers among modern jazz artists, Hargrove might also be one of the most musically giving.... whenever the trumpet is blowing, it’s blowing 110% from the heart, be it a ballad or blistering blues, a solo or full band assault. But it is not all about Roy on the bandstand—his sidemen get nearly equal time, sometimes more. And Roy brings on the most talented young artists around, risking losing them to their own careers as they gain national attention touring with Roy.

Within a year, Hargrove released two distinctly different recordings with two of his three big projects—Earfood with his quintet (2008) and Emergence (2009) with his big band; both were on many “best of the year” lists, including mine. No doubt something new is in the works with his funky RH Factor ensemble. And within a year (June 2009 and January 2010), the Roy Hargrove Quintet twice blessed the Dakota stage with two nights of incendiary, joyous music. Each set seems to raise the bar a notch. And each visit shakes up the line-up a bit.

Over the past two years we have enjoyed the revolving piano chair, the latest wunderkind Gerald Clayton, followed by the unfamiliar-should-be-well-known Sullivan Fortner, and now, the incredibly gifted Jonathan Batiste. Batiste is a presence even before he sits at the piano bench, tall and regally dressed with silver sparkle in his socks that matches his elegant scarf. And then there’s his hands—his fingers are as long as my feet (and I wear a 10!), he seemingly spans 12 or more notes, giving block chords new definition. His boss Roy gave him plenty of playing space at the Dakota, and it was a triumph.

Ameen Saleen was the “new kid” on bass, although at 30 he was hardly the youngest. He played throughout with a combined reverence and enthusiasm, taking full advantage of several solo opportunities to display his credentials. At 41, altoist Justin Robinson was the “old man” of the ensemble, Roy’s longest-standing collaborator in this band, and typically sharing equally on the front line and as soloist. Often the horns would come and go together, hanging behind the drums or even backstage while the young’uns turned the set into a trio romp.

Speaking of “kids,” when watching drummer Montez Coleman, you can’t help but visualize a toddler on his mom’s kitchen floor, surrounded by every pot and pan, beating each in turn with a large spoon, evoking gleeful shouts and a big grin. Montez told me that, indeed, that was his first percussion workshop. “My mom would want to make dinner and I would have all her pots and pans!” The toddler’s big smile and exuberant antics still inform Coleman’s ferocious and multi-layered drumming.

I heard three of the four sets this week. Hargrove was decked out in his fusion of fashion, brimmed hat, sunglasses, orange shirt, vested plaid suit, bow tie and... Minnesota winter boots. But there was nothing motley about his horn, swinging on a bluesy "Society Rag", a wide vibrato flugelhorn searing on a ballad, calling on saints with his signature closing “Bring It On Home to Me.” On night two, from the opening notes of the original “The Stinger,” the quintet roared through a blistering tour de force, Hargrove taking more solo time than on the previous night and thrilling the crowd by inviting local music legend Stokely Williams to add vocals to the encore. What could top this set? Maybe the closing 90-minutes, including Roy’s “Serenity of Solitude” and yet another surprise guest vocalist, this time Debbie Duncan. Roy doesn’t introduce most of his tunes, but it really doesn’t matter. Each composition, be it a jazz standard or brand new work, is played as if for the first and last time. Each moment is special. Food for the Gods and the ears.

Photos: (Top to bottom) Roy Hargrove blows a sweet flugelhorn; Montez Coleman flashes his big smile behind the trapset. (Photos by Andrea Canter... black and white seems to serve the Dakota's funkier-than-ever jaundiced lighting these days.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jon Weber's "Show of Shows"

© Andrea Canter

We’ve gotten accustomed to referring to pianist Jon Weber as “encyclopedic” regarding his factual as well as artistic knowledge of music. But in this day of Wikipedia and smart phones, it seems anyone can access information with a few keystrokes. Still, Jon Weber’s brain not only retrieves more quickly than a Blackberry, but it links with equal ease to related tidbits and anecdotes, and like a good synthesizer, then reprocesses and reloops that information into the improvisations spinning from his keyboard. All while carrying on a mile-a-minute conversation with his audience.

Jon Weber has been a fixture of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival for much of the past decade, serving as the “house pianist” for other visiting artists and performing in trio or quartet contexts, often at multiple venues. He’s also played gigs in between festival dates at the Dakota and Artists Quarter, building a larger and larger audience with each visit. Last night, festival producer Steve Heckler brought Jon back to the AQ in conjunction with his other big project, the St. Paul Winter Carnival, and as it turned out, it was indeed a carnival performance, a three-ring circus of often hilarious commentary, virtuosic music, and amazing feats of cerebral gymnastics. But this no mere spectator show but one that involved ongoing interaction with the audience. And that audience was one of the largest I’ve seen at the AQ in quite a while. Despite the sleet and earlier start time, it was standing room only by the time Jon moved from solo to trio.

If one were to create a jazz robot, it would resemble Jon Weber—physically imposing (6-6? with a long braided pony tail), a photographic memory (of music, composers, musicians, and whatever else he happens to come across), the ability to transpose instantly to any key or to adopt the style of any genre or artist, and the penultimate multi-tasker. But unlike a robot, Jon oozes passion for his art and considers each gig as much a social as musical event.

We’ve come to expect that long first set with Jon alone on stage with just the piano and internal processor, and last night’s 90-minute opener suggested a night of Art Tatum, Victor Borge, Milton Berle and the $64,000 Question. Well, maybe that dates me too much.... So let’s say it was by far the best house party I ever attended. Jon brings no pre-conceived set lists—he immediately asked for “a number between 1 and 8” and then asked “sharps or flats?”, and soon had launched “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” in the resulting key of E, joking that the choice of tune was to honor the latecomers expecting the usual 9 pm start time. And so those connections would continue, as “Darn That Dream” prompted a short history of Broadway flops before Jon went into the tune, first switching melody from right to left hands, then switching keys. A request for some James P. Johnson stimulated a short bio, which in turn led into the works of Herman Hupfeld, who shared Johnson’s birthdate. Did we know the four tunes written by Herman? “As Time Goes By” went by very quickly, followed by “Carolina Shout” by Johnson, now played in the style of Errol Garner. When asked for one of his original compositions, Jon played “Mr. Clecky,” written at age nine and originally titled “Jon Weber, Attorney at Law” as the theme to a fantasy television series, later renamed in honor of a piano teacher. “But I started out on a toy organ at age three,” he tells us, then launches into the only tune Fats Waller recorded on organ, “Going to See My Ma.”

Periodically, Jon’s fascination with numbers and biographical trivia triggered an audience quiz—“Peru—there are only five countries with 4 letters...Bolivia...Do you know there are 43 countries with 7 letters? Anyone give me the rest and I’ll buy you a drink.” Suggestions flew from the audience throughout the set, including a printed list that he read without missing a chord change. “This is pretty good. Did you look this up on your Blackberry?”

Jon continued to take audience requests, for a style, a composer, a specific composition, enjoying the esoteric suggestions but never stumped. He gave us everything from “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” (a tune he played on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz), “Seven Steps to Heaven,” Mingus’ “East Coast Shuffle,” “Round Midnight,” “Song for My Father” (“written by one of the last five surviving musicians in Art Kane’s ‘Great Day in Harlem’ photo—can you name the other four?”), “Satin Doll,” and even the ringer, “Rootbeer Rag.”

When he finally motioned for Gordy Johnson and Kenny Horst to make it a trio, Jon probably owed at least three drinks. The fun continued for another hour as the trio furthered the eclectic tone of the evening with the Iceland national anthem, “Lulu’s Back in Town,” a melding of Bonfa’s “Gentle Rain” and “Laura” from Dr. Zhivago, “Lullabye of Birdland” infested with licks from “If I Only Had a Brain,” and a ferocious version of “Rhythm-a-ning” with a stride interlude.

Jon took his first break after about two and a half hours. Dan, behind the bar, announced it was the longest set in the history of the AQ. But I’m not so sure, I remember the first time I saw Jon at the AQ, he played right through the break, sending his bassist and drummer off stage. His energy never wanes and his brain never disengages. And all the while, his grin and gleeful attack suggest that three-year-old tearing into the toy organ.

Photo: Jon Weber at the 2009 Twin Cities Jazz Festival. He seemed surprised to see his own big smile. I doubt it would surprise anyone else. (Photo by Andrea Canter)

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Lead Sheet -- Twin Cities Jazz, January 22-28

© Andrea Canter

It’s a jazz-heavy weekend and unless you can capture live moments on your TIVO, you might have some tough choices to make. Pretend you are in New York and this is just the daily grind.

It’s Bryan Nichols week, sort of, as the young master of improvisation and composition leads three bands starting tonight (1/22) at Café Maude, where he is joined by Mike Lewis, Adam Linz and Sean Carey. Tomorrow (1/23), he leads of a “Jazz Innovations” night as part of MacPhail’s Spotlight Series, this time in trio format with Linz and JT Bates. The Paul Renz Quintet will do the second set, making this a real “must see” night of modern music, featuring new compositions from both leaders. With regular drummer JT Bates behind the trapset, the Bryan Nichols Quartet surfaces again on Wednesday (1/27) at the Artists Quarter. (If that’s not enough Bryan, and I think there could never be too much, he’ll be with the Kelly Rossum Quartet next Saturday for Late Night at the Dakota—1/30).

The Artists Quarter adds to the decision-making dilemma this weekend by bringing in two artists for one night each. Encyclopedic sage and Tatumiffic virtuoso Jon Weber returns to his home away from home as a presentation by the St. Paul Winter Carnival, tickling and taunting the keys at the AQ tonight (1/22) with an early 8 pm start. Saturday night (1/23), the AQ hosts another reunion of the Illicit Sextet. One of the big names in area jazz in the early – mid 90s, the IS took a fifteen-year vacation with only one personnel change, reunited at the AQ last summer. It was such fun, they had to do it again. Maybe we will stop calling these gigs “reunions” and just call them fabulous? The Illicit Sextet is Chris Lomheim, David Roos, Tom Pieper, Paul Harper, Steve Kenny and Nathan Norman.

And the Dakota has its own enticements, again a different flavor each night of the weekend. Folk icon Judy Collins is back tonight (1/22) for the second set of shows. If you are old enough to remember the 60s, you are young enough to check out how well time has treated Judy and her material. Now 70, the voice has held up remarkably well, and her sense of humor and storytelling make for a mesmerizing evening. (If you heard her show at O’Shaughnessy about five years ago, forget it, must have been an off-night. Erase it at the Dakota this weekend.) Saturday night brings in a Minnesota icon, Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera, back for his near-monthly meltdown. Stick around for Late Night (1/23) with the Enormous Quartet led by free-wheeling saxman Chris Thomson.

Big things keep happening at the Dakota, with trumpet king Roy Hargrove and his quintet Sunday and Monday nights (1/24-25). Roy is enough to hear by himself but he always has a hot young band—this time with Justin Robinson returning on alto, Montez Coleman back on drums, and new recruits Aleen Saleem on bass and the remarkable Jonathan Batiste on piano. Roy loves the Dakota, obvious in every note, and fortunately we seem to get him to town about every six months.

The other “really big show” in town this coming week is the live recording session of Pete Whitman’s X-Tet at the AQ, starting Thursday night (1/28) and continuing a second night (1/29). Aside from gathering ten of the area’s finest artists, this gig will also welcome back Kelly Rossum who has been living and playing in New York since September.

Lots of other gigs as always: On the vocal front, start your week sweetly with Maud Hixson and guitarist Dave Singley at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill in St Paul (1/22) and Honey (1/23); Sophia Shorai at the Nicollet Island Inn (1/22); Erin Schwab at Hell’s Kitchen (1/22); Charmin Michelle at Crave in the West End (1/24) and Fireside Pizza (1/25 & 1/27); Nichola Miller at Tickles (1/22) and Hell’s Kitchen (1/23 & 1/27); the swinging voices of Route 3, led by tubaist Ralph Hepola, at the Bloomington Center for the Arts on Sunday afternoon (1/24); Debbie Duncan and Mary Louise Knutson at Camp Bar (1/26); Katie Gearty with Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen (1/26); Christine Rosholt at Honey (1/27).

More instrumental jazz: JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske at the St Paul Hotel Lobby Bar (1/22-23); Peter Schimke and Irv Williams for Happy Hour at the Dakota (1/22); the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico in the Chambers Hotel (1/22-23); George Cartwright in a double set highlighting compositions funded by a Jerome grant at Studio Z (1/22-23); the Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar (1/24); Fat Kid Wednesdays at the Clown Lounge (1/25); the Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (1/26); the Twin Cities Hot Club at Erte (1/27); the James Buckley Trio at Barbette (1/28).

Coming Soon! More live recording with the X-Tet and Kelly Rossum at the AQ (1/29), the Lomheim/Linz/Hey Trio at the AQ (1/30); Bill Frisell at the Walker (2/6); Roberta Gambarini at the Dakota (2/8); Bob James and Keiko Matsui at the Dakota (2/9-10); the annual Bobby Peterson Tribute Weekend at the AQ (2/12-13); Debbie Duncan and Anthony Cox at the Dakota (2/12-13); Matt Slocum CD release at the AQ (2/19-20); Ahmad Jamal at the Dakota (2/21-23).

Photos (top-bottom): Bryan Nichols, Jon Weber (at the TC Jazz Fest last June), and Roy Hargrove with Justin Robinson at their June gig at the Dakota (photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lead Sheet: Twin Cities Jazz, January 15-21

© Andrea Canter
Lots of fun music this weekend, leading into a celebration of Django Reinhardt at the Dakota. A great deal in music as well as an opportunity to learn and “preview” Twin Cities’ jazz futures is the third annual Roseville Jazz Blast on Saturday (1/16). Starting at 10:30 am, you can hear a series of high school jazz ensembles, sit in on a few master classes—all for free. Then there’s performance in the evening ($10 or $5 for students) with the Minnesota Youth Jazz Band and JazzMN Big Band (featuring Debbie Duncan), the day’s top high school ensemble, and selected student soloists. The Blast takes place on the campus of Northwestern College in Roseville (see for details).

Both sides of the river are busy this weekend. For some Brazilian warmth, guitarist/vocalist Robert Everest glides through samba and more at the Dakota on Friday night (1/15), followed on Saturday by perennial favorite, singer Patty Peterson in prime time and the Dakota debut of Jack Brass, our resident New Orleans brass giants in the Late Night slot. In St. Paul, the Artists Quarter rocks through the weekend (1/15-16) with the Kevin Washington Quartet. Ace drummer and composer Kevin brought a young band to the AQ last summer, and they tore the place apart. (We even heard Kevin on vocals!) Get the fire hoses ready!

Sunday starts a four-day “Django Fest” at the Dakota, honoring the 100th birthday of the king of hot club swing, Django Reinhardt. And what better kickoff than our local queen of hot club vocals, Connie Evingson, hosting the three big names in Minnesota gypsy jazz—Clearwater, Parisota and Twin Cities Hot Clubs. Favorites Sam Miltich, Gary Schulte, Robert Bell, Reynold Philipsek, Dave Karr, Patrick Harrison and more will swing throughout the evening. Then on Monday/Tuesday, the Dorado Schmitt All-Stars come to town, featuring French gypsy guitarist Dorado and son Samson. The fest closes Wednesday with All American favorite violinist Mark O’Connor and his Hot Swing Trio with 2 young monster guitarists, Frank Vignola and Matt Monesteri, and special guest, vocalist Heather Masse.

Music of a more contemporary era (or beyond) abounds: Paul Renz at Honey (1/15); guitarist Luke Polopnick and bassist Adam Linz team up at Red Stag Sunday night (1/17); internationally acclaimed Fat Kid Wednesdays (Mike Lewis, Adam Linz, JT Bates) bring in the late crowd at the Clown Lounge on Monday (1/18); Framework and the Luke Polopnick Quartet double up for Tuesdays at the Clown (1/19); Pooch’s Playhouse (Joel Shapira, Pooch Heine, Mark Ashe, Dave Brittain, Dave Schmalenberger) has some fun at the AQ on Wednesday (1/20) and fearless creator Dean Granros brings his trio back to the AQ on Thursday (1/21).

Looking for some good songs this week? Charmin Michelle joins the Laura Caviani Trio at Crave in the Galleria Friday (1/15); Charmin appears again at Crave in the West End Shops for Sunday Brunch (1/17), with the Jerry O’Hagan Orchestra that evening at the Medina Ballroom; and with Denny Malmberg every Monday and Wednesday night at Fireside Pizza in Richfield. Connie Olson returns to a regular performance schedule with a weekend at the Redstone Grill (1/15-16); Erin Schwab is at Hell’s Kitchen (1/15). On Saturday, it’s Sophia Shorai on keys and vocals at the Nicollet Island Inn; Nancy Harms swings at Honey; on Tuesday (1/19), Katie Gearty joins up with Vital Organ at Hell’s Kitchen; Paula Lammers takes the stage at the South St Paul VFW; Wednesday (1/20) finds Christine Rosholt at Honey, then the next night (1/21) with Beasley’s Big Band at the Wabasha Street Caves; Rachel Holder joins the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen, while Lee Engele enchants at Honey.

Don’t forget more regular gigs—Fantastic Fridays at the Black Dog; happy hour Fridays with Peter Schimke and Irv Williams at the Dakota; Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske at the Lobby Bar of the St Paul Hotel (1/15-16); Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico in the Chambers (1/15-16); the Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar (1/17); Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band, every Tuesday at the AQ; Mary Louise Knutson and Debbie Duncan, Tuesdays at Camp Bar.

Coming soon! A big weekend is brewing, with Jon Weber (1/22) and the Illicit Sextet (1/23) at the Artists Quarter; Bryan Nichols Trio and Paul Renz Quintet at MacPhail (1/23); Nachito Herrera at the Dakota (1/23); Roy Hargrove Quintet at the Dakota (1/24-25). Rest up.
Photos: Kevin Washington with a little hand percussion; Mark O'Connor; Connie Olson. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Across the Miles, We Can Learn About Miles

© Andrea Canter

Having no formal music education save piano lessons as a kid, I’ve been trying to make up for all that lost time as an aging adult. I’ve enjoyed several “Senior College” classes at St. Thomas University, although I agree with my friend Pamela that it’s an atrocious title for those of us not yet accustomed to carrying an AARP card or getting offers of discounts at the movie theater. Actually what I have enjoyed through St. Thomas are opportunities to laugh and learn with Joan Griffith, via historical overviews of jazz and Latin music, and her most recent “Conversations About Jazz,” an engaging series of interviews and musical exchanges with local artists. She’s reprising this with a new set of “Conversations” starting in March, so if you’ve reached the magic age of 55, check it out at

Most of my recent jazz education has come from the MacPhail Center for Music. MacPhail serves students as young as toddlers to super seniors in their 80s and 90s, from those seriously pursuing instrumental and vocal music studies to those like me seeking to better understand and appreciate music to become more astute listeners. Before he left for New York, I had completed four such classes with Kelly Rossum. We were a relatively small group (6-8 per class) and the format was an informal seminar, the materials a variety of readings and recordings, the real core the interaction among students and instructor. One of the earlier classes included Miles Davis’ autobiography; later (in “Jazz Book Club”) we spent a good deal of time on Ashley Kahn’s Kind of Blue, zeroing in on the musical and social context surrounding what is generally considered Miles’ most significant work.

Kelly has left MacPhail, and we’re hoping new jazz coordinator Adam Linz will soon schedule some similar classes. But now MacPhail and Kelly Rossum have come up with a new twist on jazz education—an online class, again aimed at adult (high school and up) learners with or without a background in music. And the topic? Miles Davis! Kelly had mentioned a desire to teach a course specific to Miles, and perhaps his departure from MacPhail (and at least for now, a departure from teaching) prompted him to move ahead and develop course content while working with MacPhail on the technological challenges of online education. And it is an experiment—if this first online course proves successful, it opens the doors to a lot more ideas for bringing music education to a much wider universe than the Twin Cities. Already one of the largest community education schools in the country, MacPhail could bring its philosophy of “music for everyone” to, literally, everywhere with a high speed connection.

But first, Miles Davis. Starting February 1st, Kelly plans to post a weekly series of essays he has assembled about Miles and his music, along with recommended tracks from selected recordings (excerpts online, full tracks available via iTunes, full recordings recommended). From there students and “guide” (Kelly’s preferred title) interact online. Maybe it will not have the same impact as a live, in-real-time discussion. But it will have some compensating advantages—we don’t need to agree on a time to meet. If one week is too busy, I can double up my effort the following week. I can sit back, listen, and think and rethink my responses to questions and others’ comments. I can go back to something later and listen again, read again. If I need more than the 11 weeks of the official course schedule, I can take my time. Maybe I’ll finish the last segment in July instead of May. I’ve never taken an online class (I did do some online course design once, and it seemed like a lot more work of the instructor than a typical face-to-face class!), it will be a new experience.

And who knows who might be in a class taught online? Maybe a young trumpeter attending music school on the West coast? Maybe a PR agent from Miami? Maybe a music teacher from Buffalo? Maybe a jazz critic from Montana? Maybe another jazz fan from London? The classroom will be my home computer and internet connection; my classmates from the world of jazz enthusiasts who become part of the expanded MacPhail family.

And you can never learn too much about Miles Davis. This could be another “Birth of the Cool”!

You can still register for Jazz Giants: Miles Davis online at MacPhail—visit for online registration; see more about this class at or

Image: A composite of a Miles Davis press photo and Andrea Canter’s shot of Kelly Rossum from August 2009.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Strings That Go Bop in the Night

© Andrea Canter

Jazz is historically considered an urban music. The first jazz bands were in cities like New Orleans, moving north to Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, New York, incorporating the sounds of the many cultures that merged as immigrants and travelers came together. Bluegrass, like jazz, is a “roots music” with a greater foundation in Western European traditions and more often associated with a less urbane environment. Both genres depend to a lesser or greater degree on improvisation, but where jazz generally swings, bluegrass generally strings—the blend of multiple strings (guitars, banjo, mandolin, bass) giving it a distinctive sound regardless of the melody. That’s really the sum total of my knowledge of bluegrass. And at that, I suspect it is faulty.

I was nevertheless intrigued by an email announcement from my old friend John Penny, a guitarist and composer, and recently vocalist, who like me moved to the Twin Cities from Iowa City in the early 70s. We go back to about 5th grade. Iowa City High School Class of ’68. Go Little Hawks! (Don’t do the math. Just leave it.) John has been involved in many music projects, largely jazz and Brazilian, but some bluegrass as well. His email announced a special gig at Munkabeans Coffee in Hopkins, where he has previously performed with his trio. This time, he was appearing with KBEM broadcaster and sometimes bluegrass musician Kevin Barnes, and special guest Josh Pinkham, whom he described as a young mandolin phenom from Miami. I looked up Josh on the Internet—he’s a veteran of ten years playing festivals and concerts all over the country and now all over the world. He plays bluegrass, jazz, classical. He also plays violin.

Turns out John lives next door (in Golden Valley) to Josh’s girlfriend’s parents. They connected the strings, knowing Josh would be visiting this weekend. Soon the gig was scheduled. We think musicians all know of each other but sometimes it is just serendipity—who lives next door. John and Kevin had been wanting to play together but the opportunity never came up til now.

Munkabeans (under a new owner now, it was once the Sunshine Café) sits on Mainstreet in downtown Hopkins. There’s some large comfy chairs, a few formica tables and kitchen chairs, a counter covered in home-baked cookies and muffins and all types of teas and coffee. They have a few pots of home-brewed soups, bread baking in the oven, sandwiches made to order, ice cream and malts—which apparently are a signature item that most patrons order even when it is 15 degrees below zero outside. And there is a small area set aside for music. John on acoustic guitar, Kevin on doboro—a resonator guitar played flat, and Mark Shaefer, sitting in on violin, started out the evening. I know it’s bluegrass, and that’s about all I know until the distinctive vamp of “All Blues” rises to the top. Miles Davis is everywhere! There’s no way to miss the virtuosity of these guys no matter what the rhythm or melody, and much of it seems improvised.

Josh arrived late, fighting off a virus but determined to play tonight. Like most live jazz gigs I attend, especially those in small bars and galleries, there’s a lot of “planning” on the spot—what key, what chords, who comes in when. And then it all works like they’ve been playing together for years. By now Munkabeans was overflowing, many came in, few left, half were standing. Most were listening. As a quartet they played three or four bluegrass tunes. But then Josh called “Billie’s Bounce.” Maybe it never bounced so much! Four strings give bebop a very different sound, yet the essence of Charlie Parker remains. The mandolin twisted and turned as if a high-pitched saxophone rustling in the breeze. Next, “Summertime,” which seemed quite logical as a vehicle for strings and strings. Finally, his cohorts stepped aside to give Josh a solo spotlight. He wanted to play some Bach. Here we were, half standing, gripping our coffee mugs and malt cups, 30 or so crammed into a small town (or suburban, depending on your definition) cafe, applauding a Bach Partita (one known as “the jig”), played with eloquence and technical aplomb by a 21-year-old mandolinist from Miami.

This coming week, I’ll be at Ordway to hear one of the world’s greatest working string chamber ensembles, the Takacs Quartet. They’ll play Haydn, Beethoven and Shostokovich to an audience of about 1500 in one of the premiere concert halls of the Midwest. I’ll surely enjoy it. But maybe not as much as a night of Parker, Gershwin and Bach, played for an audience of 30-40 by a pick-up string quartet in a Hopkins coffeehouse.
Photo: John Penny. Actually this is at the Artists Quarter. (Photo by Andrea Canter)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dramatic Flares and Singers Charms

© Andrea Canter

Every other CD I receive for review comes from a vocalist. And locally, at least, it seems that there are three or four vocal gigs for every instrumental ensemble booking. Vocalists--jazz, pop, blues or R&B—have long been the bread and butter of clubs and larger venues, from the days of big bands through rock ‘n roll and acid rock. If you can sing, someone will hire you. If you sing well, they might hire you again. And if you sing really well, you might become a media star. Short of a jazz icon like Wynton Marsalis (who maybe is the only jazz icon of 21st century popular culture), instrumentalists just don’t attract the attention of the general public. Everyone relates to singers. We can all sing. Maybe badly, but we can, and do, sing, if only in the shower. Most of us do not dabble in saxophone, trumpet or even piano. But there is a downside to the popularity of vocal music—how does a given artist stand out in the crowd? And such a big crowd?

Relative to an instrumentalist, a singer needs more than music to connect to the audience. For whatever reason, audiences seem to take good intonation, phrasing, and even improvisation for granted in vocal jazz. No so with the saxophone or trumpet—beyond a pleasing tone, if the horn or bass or keyboard player can not communicate through his or her music, the audience won’t ask for more. And if the musician does communicate through his or her music? The audience will be happy... and won’t ask for more. But bring on a vocalist, and we expect a relationship that extends beyond music. We want personality. We want interaction. Sometimes what we really want is theater.

Two singers on the Dakota stage this week can attribute some of their popularity to their ability to bring theater into their performances. If they suddenly chose to just sing their setlists, no matter how artful and personal, they would probably get less than stellar reviews. The music is not enough. Why can’t we be friends, too?

Let’s start with Christine Rosholt, hometown girl makes good. Now about six years into her singing career at the ripe age of 45, Christine started out in theater—as a student at the Children’s Theater who gradually moved into the world of jazz singing. And it has been a gradual and steady rise. A few years ago, Christine was building her audience, at least as much as a result of her utterly charming, interactive stage persona as her specific attributes as a vocalist. She stood out in a sea of capable singers because she could sell herself and her songs—even without singing a note. She told stories, she joked with the band, she chatted with the audience as if at a cocktail party, and it never seemed like a put-on. And it might have been one of the most effective strategies in artistic survival. Charm and pizzazz gave Christine a devoted audience while allowing her time to grow as a musician.

Today, Christine charms as much with her melodies, her phrasing, her interpretations, her song choices as she does with her banter and perky smile. She’s bringing her own character, comedy and drama into her music, not just her show. She can pull your heart out with an achingly slow “Smile” or make you smirk with her interpretation of Dave Frishberg’s “I’m Hip.” But still, no matter how strong she is vocally, no matter how “hip” her band, we always expect to have a good time with Christine--the person, the actress, the comedienne, the friend... and oh yes, the singer.

There may be no singer on the jazz or pop scene today who generates more drama and comedy than Nellie McKay. She writes outrageous lyrics, conjures memories of Tiny Tim with her ukulele, is wickedly funny, and seeks audience response. For the uninitiated who saw her for the first time at the Dakota a year ago, her performance bordered on bizarre. Apart from all that, she also could sing and play piano (and of course ukulele), although what one remembers later is the drama more than the music. Recently she released a tribute to Doris Day (As Normal as Blueberry Pie) which is far less satire than some might expect, but we did expect the new show at the Dakota to be liberally sprinkled with Doris songs, albeit cloaked and daggered in Nellie McKay. For some reason this surprised or disappointed Strib writer Jon Bream, who reported that McKay’s opening night was essentially the Doris Day songbook and that McKay did not make the connection with her audience as she has so easily done the year before. Were we at the same show?

Bream is as entitled to his opinion as I am to mine, but I object to one individual speaking for an audience of about 200. OK, Jon, so Nellie did not make that connection with you. She was not sufficiently over the top. All those Doris tunes seemed to wrap McKay in a conservative blanket? Personally I thought she was understatedly brilliant. She didn’t beat me over the head with her drama like last year, she more gently tugged me into it. And the show was hardly a Doris-a-Thon—at least ten of the 20 or so tunes were original Nellie McKay fare, clever, outrageous, sometimes hysterical lyrics that outsize Dave Frishberg or Mose Allison. She’s more like Patricia Barber on happy pills. Didn’t connect with the audience? There I was, stuck in the middle of the main floor where I could barely see patrons along the far edges of the bar or the back end of the mezzanine. So I can’t account for their reactions. But the folks around me seemed thoroughly engaged, smiling and applauding, standing at the end to entice another encore. Had the audience made a better connection with Nellie, there might have been a riot when she left after encore #2.

But back to my main thesis—the drama, or in Bream’s opinion, lack of drama, seemed to color at least one man’s enjoyment (or lack of) of what was really pretty darn good music. Nellie is not Doris Day although she gently satirized the perky blonde bombshell while competently singing such Doris tunes as “The Very Thought of You,” “Sentimental Journey,” and “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy.” Sounding even a little bit like Ella, Nellie brought some theatric touches to “Tisket a Tasket”; and sounding slightly like Patsy Cline, she gave a sincere rendering of “I Go Walking After Midnight.” Her own songs ranged from charming to insane, and her versatility was evident from playing solo piano, solo ukulele and fronting a band drawn from Prairie Home Companion regulars. It’s not a big voice, but a voice that slides easily in and out of whatever the character of the moment.

If she were to present the songs without the drama of her accompanying stories and explanations, we might not remember much. A lot of competent singers tackle the Doris Day songbook. And there are others who write clever lyrics. But there is only one Nellie McKay. And she is not “as normal as blueberry pie.”

She charmed the heck out of me.

Photos: Christine Rosholt (with bassist Graydon Peterson) at the Dakota in early 2009 (by Andrea Canter); Nellie McKay (press photo by Leon Retna).

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Lead Sheet --Twin Cities Jazz, January 8-14

© Andrea Canter

The “big” gigs of the coming week are essentially local – it’s a good time to get out and support your favorite area artists, to maintain and grow our “sustainable” art. One of the most interesting is off the beaten path—in downtown Hopkins at a coffeehouse/café, Munkabeans & Sunshine Café. An unlikely spot for a guitar/mandolin trio? Possibly the Twin Cities’ most eclectic guitarist, John Penny has been a frequent performer at Munkabeans, as well as appearing at such diverse venues as Mill City Coffee, Homewood Studios, the Artists Quarter, and various summer jazz festivals. Lately he has been experimenting with vocals and Brazilian styles, and particularly solo performance. So this is even off the beaten path for John, who joins Josh Pinkham, teen phenom who has quite a reputation on the bluegrass and mandolin circuits, and KBEM’s Kevin Barnes, who apparently plays a mean Doboro (a type of resonator guitar). Don’t let the deep freeze forecast scare you away from this one. And there is more tropical heat in Hopkins Saturday night, at the more conventional Hopkins Center for the Arts—Joan Griffith, Laura Caviani and friends reprise their Sambanova! recording, mostly original Brazilian style compositions for guitar and piano.

More predictable, but in a very good way, are two nights with our "First Lady of Song" Debbie Duncan at the Artists Quarter (1/8-9) and a bluesy weekend at the Dakota with Davina and the Vagabonds. Out in the west burbs, the Redstone Grill will be swinging hard with Maud Hixson and the Twin Cities Hot Club (1/8-9). Some great voices grace the Capri stage, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, as pianist/producer Sanford Moore presents “My First Loves” with Greta Ogelsby, Tonia Hughes Kendrick and Yolande Bruce.

More strong voices appear in special gigs this week—Jeff Jensen joins the Laura Caviani Trio at Crave in the Galleria (1/8); Sophia Shorai (piano and vocals) at Honey (1/9); Dorothy Doring with vocalist /drummer Donald Thomas at the Dakota (1/12) followed by sassy and swinging Nichola Miller (1/13); Arne Fogel sings out with the Wolverines at Hell’s Kitchen (1/13); and an annual treat, the (Minneapolis) South High Singers Showcase (with Charmin Michelle) on Thursday night (1/14). And as usual, you can find Charmin with Rick Carlson at Crave in St. Louis Park for Sunday brunch (1/10) and with Denny Malmberg at Fireside Pizza Mondays and Wednesdays (1/11 & 1/13).

As always, there’s plenty of modern sounds around town: Dean Granros at Café Maude (1/8); the Improvised Music Series at Homewood Studios, this week with Milo Fine, Dave Seru, John O’Brien and Stefan Kac (1/11); Jelloslave, Late Night at the Dakota (1/8) and at Barbette (1/11); Jazz at the Clown Lounge with Off the Map and Fat Kid Wednesdays (1/11) and the James Buckley Trio and Atlantis Quartet (1/12); Ingo Bethke at the Kitty Kat Club (1/12); How Birds Work (1/13) and the Phil Hey Quartet (1/14) at the AQ; the Dan Musselman Quartet at the Dakota (1/14). And don’t forget the “regulars” providing the best in instrumental jazz every week—Peter Schimke and Irv Williams for Happy Hour at the Dakota on Fridays; the Benny Weinbeck Trio at D’Amico Kitchens in the Chambers Hotel (Friday and Saturday nights); Joann Funk and Jeff Brueske in the Lobby Bar of the St. Paul Hotel (Saturday nights and with KBEM’s Jazz After Work for happy hour on 1/14); the Zacc Harris Trio at the Riverview Wine Bar (Sunday nights); the Cory Wong Quartet followed by the Tuesday Night Band at the AQ (Tuesday nights).

Coming soon—Paul Renz Quintet at Honey (1/15); Robert Everest (1/15) and Patty Peterson (1/16) at the Dakota; the Kevin Washington Quartet at the AQ (1/15-16); the annual Roseville Jazz Blast and concert at Northwestern College (1/16); the Dakota’s Django Fest, starting with our local hot club bands (1/17), Dorado Schmitt’s All Stars (1/18-19) and Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing Trio (1/20); Jon Weber (1/22) and the Illicit Sextet (1/23) at the AQ; Bryan Nichols Trio and Paul Renz Quintet at Antonello Hall at MacPhail (1/23); Roy Hargrove Quintet at the Dakota (1/24-25).

Photos: (Top to bottom) John Penny; Joan Griffith with Clea Galhano at the Sambanova CD Release Party; Ingo Bethke. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

December 2009 -- The Month of the Young Jazz Artist

© Andrea Canter

It’s no surprise that the holidays provide opportunities to hear former Twin Cities’ jazz artists live as they return to spend time with friends and families. We count on The Bad Plus for an annual residency at the Dakota between Christmas and New Year’s; we can usually count on a night or two with Bill Carrothers at the Artists Quarter. Bruce Henry has made more frequent “homecomings” in the past year but, of course, we expected him this holiday season and were not disappointed. Maybe we hoped Kelly Rossum would make a holiday visit, but we’ll just have to wait a few more weeks for his first return since moving to New York a few months ago. (He’s back at the end of January to record a live session with Pete Whitman’s X-tet.)

Holidays also mean breaks for college students and recent grads who return for some family time and, sometimes, the opportunity to schedule a gig or two with past cohorts and new collaborators. Thanks to programs like the early sets at the AQ, late nights at the Dakota, and small clubs open to new talent (e.g., the Clown Lounge, Rogue Buddha), our young musicians are finding venues to try out new compositions, new configurations and rapidly advancing skills. December 2009 was a month of incomparable opportunities to catch up with young jazz musicians, from high schoolers through recent college grads now living (and working) from coast to coast.

The Dakota Combo, now in its fourth edition, performed its first public gig on December 5th, in prime time at the Dakota with visiting guest artist Tia Fuller. This program (a joint effort of the MacPhail Center for Music and Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education) has an amazing track record for helping launch successful college careers (to such programs as the Brubeck Institute, New England Conservatory, Juilliard, New School and more); I predict that within the next few years we will be reading about Combo alums in the pages of Jazz Times and Downbeat as they transition to fulltime professional careers. The Combo this year boasts only two seniors, but their limited experience is offset by their dedication and enthusiasm, as well as considerable talent. Fifteen-year-old pianist Quentin Tschofen confidently tackled “Monk’s Dream” solo in the first set, then returned in the second with two originals supported by the full Combo. “Drunken Monkey Framing Company” could have been another Monk composition with its playful and jagged lines, while his “Neither Here Nor There” inspired guest Tia Fuller to solos worthy of a jazz classic. As a whole, the Combo has been exploring very interesting, ambitious music unlike the usual playlists for high school musicians (e.g., compositions by Mingus, Tim Hagans, Peter Erskine), as director Adam Linz has high expectations—and confidence in the level of commitment and musicianship already present in these seven artists.

Two weeks later, despite a scheduling mixup, a quartet of somewhat older area musicians proved the value of their early college studies at the Artists Quarter under the band name “530” – the Chicago apartment number for pianist Chris Misa and drummer Rob Fletcher, halfway through their first year at DePaul University. Bassist Cory Grindberg—an alum of the Dakota Combo—is in his first year at Northwestern; Remy Taghavi is in his second year at USC, where he augments his classical bassoon studies with jazz saxophone. The quartet played mostly original compositions, each musician clearly ready to hold his own as writer and player.

And a few days later, I had the pleasure of attending a private jazz party at the St. Paul home of Daniel Duke, now a bass student at William Paterson University in New Jersey. Daniel was part of the first edition of the Dakota Combo, as was pianist Javier Santiago. Javier went on to the Brubeck Institute (a single quartet or quintet selected for a one or two year tenure at the University of the Pacific), and is now at the New School in Manhattan. Rounding out the trio was drummer Miguel Hurtado, finishing studies at the Manhattan School of Music. I remember Javier and Miguel playing together as young teens in The Eggz and in other bands, well before finishing at Minneapolis South. The grand piano filled most of the living room, the three musicians were barely two feet apart, and the audience crammed the adjacent dining room and perimeter of the living room. But all-acoustic music from a few feet away gives you the sense that you are part of the beat; Miguel controlled his drumkit such that we were not driven out of our seats by sound or vibration. The trio played original compositions and standards with the skill and passion one would expect at a small New York club. Soon we will be paying for the pleasure.

Javier turned up again a few days later with the John Raymond Project at the Clown Lounge. Trumpeter John graduated last spring from the UW-Eau Claire, having spent the previous 4-5 years gigging almost as much as attending classes! I first caught John barely out of high school with the Jazz Is Now ensemble, then a year or so later as he launched his JRP late one night at the Bryant Lake Bowl Theater. Since then, he has played a number of gigs at the Dakota, with his own band and with Nachito Herrera. Now working toward a master’s degree at SUNY Purchase outside of New York City, John wasted no time finding a few gigs over the holidays. Maybe the only thing that impresses me more than John’s entrepreneurial skills is his musicianship, as composer and performer. With Javier on piano, John brought in frequent cohorts from UW-EC days, Aaron Hedenstrom on sax, Jeremy Boettcher on bass, and Brian Claxton on drums. It was a diverse set highlighting compositions of the band and a few interesting covers—Nicholas Payton’s “Backward Step” and John’s gorgeous arrangement of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” There’s always a spiritual core to John’s music and a Miles Davis feel to many of his arrangements; Javier’s solo on “Emmanuel” was simply beautiful.

In addition to leading the Dakota Combo and jazz program at MacPhail, bassist Adam Linz is a resource for young artists seeking playing opportunities. Through his connections with Rogue Buddha Gallery, he organized an evening of new bands, new music, booking two bands under the leadership of young Joe Strachan to bookend one of his trio projects. On December 27th, the Joe Strachan Trio played the first set in the gallery, the 30 or so chairs filled and a number of parents, friends and area musicians standing. Joe, a 2009 Dakota Combo alum, attends the Lawrence University’s Conservatory. Combo cohort Cory Grindberg was on bass, along with current Combo drummer Cameron LeCrone, just a senior at Minnetonka High. Cam, Cory and Joe were the Combo rhythm section last year, when Cam was the lone junior in the band. The trio took apart “Cry Me a River”; reworked a Bulgarian folksong that attracted Joe’s attention on a recording of the Bulgarian Women’s Choir; and played a new arrangement of Cory’s “Faded”—originally played by the Combo with trombone and trumpet, but even funkier without horns.

Joe and Cory returned for the last set, as part of the quintet “Metropolitan Port Authority,” joining Remy Taghavi, trumpeter Jake Baldwin (another Combo alum now at the New England Conservatory) and drummer Isaac Zuckerman (former student broadcaster at KBEM, now at the University of Colorado). MPA came together last summer and recorded a CD of original compositions. Sounding tighter and more confident, the quintet blew through a well-paced, exhilarating set of mostly originals—Remy’s “Starlight Waltz,” Cory’s “Tiny Lacerations” featuring Jake on pocket trumpet, Jake’s “Sock Monkey Esquire,” and a fascinating arrangement of a Philip Glass composition, “Rubric.”

The final “young lions” outing of the month was aptly titled “Young Lions Showcase,” a prime time gig at the Dakota. The band took on varying identities and shapes throughout the evening, with a core quartet of Paris Strother on piano, Chris Smith on bass, Brandon Commodore on drums, and John Raymond on trumpet. For the most part, this was the post-grad lions’ den, Chris still completing studies at New School after two years with the Brubeck Institute and touring with Jeff “Tain” Watts and Jose James. Paris, who at 17 played the opening set to inaugurate the “new” Dakota in fall 2003, graduated from Berklee in Boston in 2008 and is currently working with outreach programs of the Monk Institute in Los Angeles. Brandon completed studies at McNally Smith and now tours with Sounds of Blackness and Mint Condition. Paris’ twin sister Amber (also living and working in LA) and Brandon’s younger sister Ashley (finishing her degree at DePaul in Chicago) added some lovely vocals throughout the set and, again, Javier Santiago appeared for a few tunes, as did Aaron Hedenstrom. Even mom Ginger Commodore got in on the act with a rousing “My Favorite Things,” engaging John in a scat and trumpet duel. With Javier and Aaron, John reprised his arrangement of “Emmanuel;” the quartet offered an initially disguised reading of “Footprints;” Amber was stunning on “My Man’s Gone Now;” Chris was very mellow on electric bass as Paris covered piano and electric keyboard on her “Half Moon Lullabye;” Ashley gave “Orange Moon” some R&B flavors; both singers added vocalese harmonies to Paris’ “Tree in the Desert.” Paris and Chris go back to grade school at Ramsey Fine Arts in south Minneapolis, and honoring her longtime friend, Paris wrote the gently assertive “CCS.” Perhaps the most engaging of all were the Strother and Strother composition,“Migration” (with both Paris and Amber adding vocals) and the Ramsey Lewis arrangement of the theme from “Spartacus,” featuring inspired solos from Paris and Chris.

The value of jazz education, starting well before high school, was clearly illustrated at each of these sessions. In addition to the impact of the Dakota Combo, these musicians reflect the benefits of middle school jazz programs like Ramsey Fine Arts, high school jazz bands, summer jazz camps (many of these artists first met at Twin Cities Jazz Workshop, MITY, or Minnesota Youth Jazz Band) and community music schools like Walker West and MacPhail. And the support of family can not be underestimated. At each of these gigs, the audience—large or small—included parents and siblings. Daniel Duke’s mom Sharon makes sure there is a venue and audience even if it means turning her home into a jazz club for the evening. Rogue Buddha on a small scale, the Dakota and AQ on a larger scale, were crowded with family and extended family who stayed for the full night of music. For the younger musicians, lessons, rehearsals and gigs mean a parent or older sibling is driving... sometimes from distances of 100 miles or more. And then there’s the expense of lessons and college tuition, even with scholarships...

So a big BRAVO to the young jazz musicians who give us faith in the future of the music, to the families and teachers who support every note. And to the venues that host their first professional gigs.
Photos: (Top to bottom) Quentin Tschofen with the Dakota Combo; Daniel Duke; John Raymond; Cory Grindberg and Joe Strachan at MPA's CD release in July; Paris Strother at the Dakota. (Photos by Andrea Canter)

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Lead Sheet-- Twin Cities Jazz, January 1-7

© Andrea Canter

Happy New Year! There was a lot of great jazz in the Twin Cities throughout 2009, and 2010 looks at least as promising. The Jazz Vocalists of Minnesota start things off with a Singer Showcase & Jam at the Sage Wine Bar in Mendota Heights (1/2). Some of the “up and comers” on the vocal scene will swing the night away with the string duo of Reynold Philpsek and Matt Peterson, in a casually classy suburban gem serving a long wine list and great bar food. It’s over early enough to zip across on 35E to the Artists Quarter and continue the celebration with the Billy Franze Quartet. Franze is mostly known these days for his guitar contributions to the famed Tuesday Night Band, a weekly fixture at the AQ. With Peter Schimke, Billy Peterson and Kenny Horst, you can be assured of a hard boppin’ evening.

More celebrations Tuesday night (1/5) at the Dakota as local artists Christine Rosholt, Leslie Ball and Dave Singley hold a three-way birthday party. Great vocals and guitar! The Dakota then hosts the incomparable, unpredictable, wildly talented Nellie McKay (1/6-7). She sings, she strums a ukulele, she entertains. She’s one of a kind. Down the street, Triplicate takes the stage at Hell’s Kitchen (1/7), bringing together three aces who don’t seem to get together that often –Joel Shapira, Bruce “Pooch” Heine and Dave Stanoch. Across town, the AQ hosts the always elegant Phil Aaron Trio (1/6) and the always hard-blowing Dave Karr Quartet (1/7).

Best bests for night owls: The Clown Lounge’s new Tuesday schedule (10 pm) this week (1/5) includes Homecoming King (Brian Ziemniak, Cody McKinney and Greg Schutte), followed by the Fantastic Merlins. Avant garde fans—check out Milo Fine’s CD Release (his limited edition The Untenability of Sentience & More Wistful Tunes for the Sincere) at the Art of This Gallery in south Minneapolis, 1/5.

Chamber jazz is alive and well from one end of the metro to the other—Peter Schimke and Irv Williams do Happy Hour honors today at the Dakota (1/1) while Honey features Park Evans, Adam Wozniak and JT Bates tonight (1/1); JoAnn Funk and Jeff Brueske hold forth as usual Friday and Saturday nights at the St Paul Hotel Lobby Bar (1/1-2); the Zacc Harris Trio plays Sunday nights at the Riverview Wine Bar (1/3); The Tuesday Night Band appears of course on Tuesday at the AQ, preceded by the Cory Wong Quartet (1/5).

More vocals this week – Charmin Michelle, brunch on Sunday with Rick Carlson at Crave in St. Louis Park, and with Denny Malmberg on Monday and Wednesday at Fireside Pizza; Christine Rosholt appears at Honey on 1/6; Arne Fogel takes up with the Wolverines Trio at Hell’s Kitchen on Wednesday (1/6) and with his own trio at Honey on Thursday (1/7).

Coming soon: Debbie Duncan at the AQ (1/8-9); the Dakota’s Django Fest with local hot clubs, Connie Evingson, Dorado Schmitt and Mark O’Connor (1/17-20); Jon Weber (1/22) and the Illicit Sextet (1/23) at the AQ; the Bryan Nichols Trio and Paul Renz Quintet share the bill at MacPhail’s Antonello Hall (1/23); Roy Hargrove at the Dakota (1/24-25); live recording sessions with the Pete Whitman X-Tet (with Kelly Rossum) at the AQ (1/28-29).

And since this is the New Year’s Day edition of Lead Sheet, what else is coming in 2010? Ahmad Jamal (2/21-23), Hiromi solo (3/8-9) and Chick Corea with Gary Burton (April), all at the Dakota; a Dave King Weekend with the Bad Plus, Happy Apple, Buffalo Collision, Craig Taborn and more at the Walker (3/12-13); Regina Carter (3/15) and Danilo Perez (4/10) at Ted Mann. My prediction? 2010 is going to be a banner year for local jazz.
Photos (top to bottom): Billy Franze headlines his own quartet at the AQ; Christine Rosholt celebrates another birthday at the Dakota; Peter Schimke and Irv Williams mellow out at Happy Hour at the Dakota every Friday. (Photos by Andrea Canter)